X marks the spot.
The spot just happened to be the cylinder of the basket, and Xavier Allen was spot on with his shooting.
Allen, Mattituck’s own X-Man, had a hot hand from the start, finding the mark on five of his first six field-goal attempts, two successful three-pointers among them. The 6-foot junior had 15 of Mattituck’s first 17 points. By halftime, the score was: Allen 21, Pierson 20.
And when all was said and done Thursday, Allen had 32 points, two shy of his career-high number, and Mattituck had a 74-36 non-league win to its credit.
“I think this is one of the top games he’s played,” said Mattituck senior H’Nadahri Joyner, who is Allen’s cousin. “He’s got a lot of fire. He wasn’t selfish, but he earned it. We’re a team. I don’t care if he scored 100 out of 100 points.”
As Allen saw it, he was just having fun, and that’s the name of the game for him. “I don’t play good basketball when I don’t have fun,” he said.
Mattituck (5-4, 0-1 League VI) unquestionably had fun as a team, making its final game of the calendar year a good one in which to bid farewell to 2018.
In order to prepare for the rigors of League VI, Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood assembled a challenging non-league schedule. The Tuckers lost the first three of them — by four points to Greenport, 13 points to East Islip and 39 to Miller Place — before a one-point win over East Hampton. Ellwood recalled being happy after one of those non-league losses and telling his players, “It’s going to pay dividends down the road.”
The Tuckers appear to have sharpened their game. With Thursday’s win in their final non-league game, they brought their non-league record to 5-3.
“I think it taught us a lot,” Joyner said of those non-leaguers. “You can’t let up on any team, whether good or bad. You got to give it 120 percent. You can’t take the pressure off.”
Mattituck turned in a complete performance against Pierson (4-4, 2-0 League VII) for its fifth win in six games. Allen powered an 18-2 run for a 23-7 Mattituck lead through the first quarter.
“He broke that zone up early,” Ellwood said. “They were trying to pack it in on us and make us a three-point team. That’s what we needed from [Allen] and he gave it to us.”
Pierson (4-4, 2-0 League VII) didn’t reach double figures until Harry Cowen made a pair of free throws with 5 minutes, 23 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Whalers had no answer for Allen, who sank seven three-pointers in addition to collecting seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Joyner, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, said, “When you see someone like that, you say, ‘Give him the ball.’ ”
Mattituck closed the game on a 28-6 run.
For the Tuckers, there was a lot to feel good about. They shot 48.5 percent from the field, outrebounded Pierson by 38-26 and turned the ball over only 12 times (to 23 by the Whalers).
“This was a good game,” Joyner said. “I don’t think it was a great game because I know we can play better.”
What was Allen’s take?
“We still need to work on our defense a little more and our passes, but aside from that we’re doing pretty good,” he said.
Jayden Ford had 14 points for Mattituck.
Henry Brooks, who scored Pierson’s first seven points, finished with 19.
If there was an area where the Tuckers could nitpick, it was in the fouling department. They were whistled for 19 fouls to Pierson’s eight. Pierson was already shooting in the bonus with 46.4 seconds left in the first quarter. By the time the third quarter was two minutes old, Mattituck’s five starters each had three personal fouls, except for Chris Nicholson, who had four.
Allen, who like Joyner was an All-League player last season, isn’t the same player he was. He said he has gotten stronger, lifting weights. “I evolved since last year, I know that much,” he said.
Ellwood said, “When your best player improves that much, it’s going to make your team that much better.”
Sitting on the bleachers afterward, Allen could relax and savor a job well done.
How did he feel about the game he just played?
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “It was like another Christmas gift.”
Photo caption: Pierson’s Peter Schaefer defending against Mattituck’s Xavier Allen (32 points), who fell two points shy of matching his career-high in scoring. (Credit: Garret Meade)